Latina Voices: Stop the Stereotypes

Latina Stereotype -Latinas Speak

Sofía Vergara spins. Mariachi Barbie sings – at least in little girls’ minds.

Are the two images related?

Maybe you believe, as many do, that Sofía Vergara’s spinning segment on the dais at the Emmys this year was sexist and denigrating, or maybe you share her view that the stunt was an attempt to show that a “hot” woman can be funny and make fun of herself. Either way, the incident has galvanized public comment and, in some cases, Latina action.

Latinas in Media

Latinas long have been relegated by media to one-dimensional characters that fit in one of two buckets: the voluptuous sassy Latina, or the “mujer abnegada” (self-sacrificing mother figure).

Yet, Latinas today are college graduates, business owners and elected public officials. A Latina justice on the Supreme Court interprets the laws of the land. And, while they are still vastly underrepresented in Corporate America, some Latinas have risen in the ranks. Latinas also are the “driving force” in Hispanic purchasing power in the U.S.

Still, “when it comes to Latino people—especially women—it’s as if the TV got stuck in the 1950s,” says poet and writer Erika L. Sánchez (@ErikaLSanchez).

In the next few days, Mattel is launching its new Mariachi Barbie – which they hope will overcome the negative reaction to last year’s pink-clad Mexican Barbie with Chihuahua dog. Does the new Mariachi Barbie portray an accurate image of Latinas any more than spinning Sofía does? Felix Sánchez, chairman of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, says, “at least… Mariachi Barbie is an image that does exist. It helps us embrace toy making in a way that makes it relevant and authentic.”

But, while that particular Barbie may have earned a place in our little Latinas’ toy boxes, we need to remind the world that not all of us are mariachi singers or gorgeous actresses. Instead, we are multidimensional beings who straddle two cultures, two languages, and multiple societal roles, depending on the situation. Like everyone else, we’re human beings with myriad complex experiences, desires and identities,” writer Erika Sánchez asserts.

Harnessing Our Own Narrative

So, what is our responsibility as Latinas and as communicators?  How can we help create the stories that successfully represent the diversity of Latina women? 

Two members of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Rubi Martínez and Michelle Huete-Sardaryzadeh, responded to the Emmys incident with a movement to stop the stereotypes and show the public a true representation of Latinas: #LatinasSpeak. The video they created “is meant to start a conversation among Latinas.”

We have the power to change the plot from “what we are not” to “what we are” − to accurately depict Latinas by telling our own stories. By doing so, we can connect on a deeper level that hopefully will lead to a more realistic and diverse image of Latinas in mass media.

As Linda Ong (@lindaong100) said at NAHJ in San Antonio ( #NAHJ14SA): “If you don’t harness your own narrative & tell your own story someone else will tell it for you”